Some Notes from Maturana's Australian Workshops


These notes are about as lively as a skeleton, compared to the experience of Maturana's workshops which are rich in imagery and narrative quality and trigger new insights every time.

We operate as observers - in the praxis of living. Living happens to us. It is what we experience. This is a paradox. It happens to us yet we are doing it!

We distinguish in language. What we don't distinguish doesn't happen to us.

We communicate about our experience in terms of explanations. An explanation depends on acceptance by someone (who may be oneself).

For an explanation to occur there are two conditions - a formal condition which is the generative mechanism or process and an informal condition which can be anything at all. There are as many different explanations as there are different ways of listening.

The extent to which you accept Maturana's explanation depends on the formal and informal conditions being satisfied in your listening. Explanations have no value in themselves - only in how we interpret or accept (validate) them.
What do we explain? Our experience. Our experience is the basis for the generative mechanism entailed in our explanation because we live in experience - not as separate observers.

The kind of explanation which is a scientific explanation satisfies the following criteria: (1) Description of what to do (by an observer) to live the experience to be explained. (2) Proposition of a generative mechanism such that, if it is allowed to operate, the result is (1). These two above are the poetics of science. (3) Deduction from all that is entailed in (2) of other interrelated experiences and of what to do to live them. (4) Doing what was deduced in (3) and, if the experience happens, then (2) was indeed the scientific explanation. These last two are the engineering or the mechanics of science.
So, in explaining our experience, what we use is our experience. Scientific explanations are mechanistic, but not reductionist. We are not reducing one domain of knowledge into another (when we explain the mechanism).

Everything in nature occurs spontaneously - according to the entity itself. Cause and effect is a commentary one makes when seeing regularity in one thing following another.

There are two ways of explaining we can use. (1) We assume that the experience is independent of what the observer does and is objective, i.e. an external reality. (2) The experience is taken to belong to the explainer, is defined in language as part of his personal relations and is evaluated in relation to other experiences, not as a belief in an external reality.

In the latter, perception and illusion cannot be distinguished. What we call a mistake or an error is something that we recognise later in reflecting on our experience. How do we know the difference? Only through our experience - not through a given external reality.

Reality is our explanatory argument - not something independent of our experience. We can only really explain experience through experience. We recognise the coherence of experiences in a particular domain. What validates is coherence of experience.

Instead of saying what is something (trying to answer through reference to reality) we say what criteria of validation do I use to claim that something is the case.

In questioning the observer, all questions are legitimate - provided we are operating in (2) above. If we don't question, our knowing will be limited. Domains of knowledge are built on experiential coherence. Knowledge is defined in interpersonal relations. It is a gift to the other.

Friendship is not objective. We can say anything to a friend because we are not demanding the other to be that. In this case, knowledge is not a demand, but an invitation.

As observers we distinguish simple entities (or totalities) and composite entities (in which we can also distinguish component parts). The organisation of a unity is the relationship between its components which defines its class identity. The structure is the components and the relations between them that realise a composite entity.

It is this crucial distinction which allows us to define systems. The system exists as long its organisation remains. These two domains are distinct and don't interact, e.g. you cannot deduce a book from its pages.

When two systems interact they trigger structural changes which may or may not trigger organisational changes. The system and its medium change together congruently. Structural coupling is the manner of encountering between two systems.

Ontogeny is a history of structural change with conservation of organisation (and adaptation). Ontogenic drift arises in this process from adaptation, but no particular changes in a living system occur because of necessity.
Behaviour is not something the system does. It is something that happens in the relationship between the living system and its medium. Both the system and the medium are constantly changing.

A lineage arises in the reproductive conservation of a manner of living (or ontogenic phenotype). It is not primarily a genetic phenomenon.

Systemic relationships exist between things not properties, e.g. my title is not a property of me, though I exist in relation to it.

Whereas communication is seen in a coordination of behaviour, when we say we live in languaging, we refer to living in the coordination of coordinations of behaviour.

Emotion or emotioning is a kind of behaviour and a manner of relating. Whenever our emotion changes the domain of relating changes. Emotioning is learned through experience (to laugh, cry, accept, reject, love, hate. We are always in emotion - it is present in us always.

The entwining of languaging and emotioning is conversation. It's an association of a linear and a circular process (like a tyre running on the road), i.e. a recursion in coordination of coordinations of behaviour. Language takes place in the relationship.

As the elements in a system change its manner of operating changes. This is a series of sensory-effector correlations which, to an observer, is seen as the behaviour of the system (or organism). It depends on the connectedness of the system and the flow of structural coupling.

Organisms undergo structural changes which are congruent with the medium in which they exist. These structural changes are contingent upon the history of the organism.

The organism operates as a closed system. The structure of its neuronal elements is highly plastic, not fixed. Therefore its coupling can constantly change. Changes outside the organism cannot be instructive. They trigger change which is determined by the structure of the organism at that time (which is the product of its history of structural coupling).

Languaging takes place in the relational domain, generating sensory-effector correlations which make sense in the language domain. We exist in a relational space which has conscious and unconscious dimensions.

To be human is to live humanly. We are human only through our relationship with other humans. We find ourselves in structural congruence in our relational space. Our structure changes as our experience changes.

We are part of a lineage of living things, more particularly, the human lineage. This is characterised by its dependence on the emotion called love for relational, and therefore physiological, wellbeing. If love is absent, we become ill.

Love is the domain of behaviours through which another arises as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself. Love is an emotion constituting a certain space in which relations occur - no more, no less.

Acceptance as a legitimate other changes us in our relations. Rational arguments can cultivate aggression, but not where love exists.

We are neotonic animals, i.e. we are born relatively undeveloped and our childhood is greatly expanded compared to other species.

In evolution nothing happens because it is necessary or because it is an advantage. What happens is that a certain manner of living begins to be conserved and then other things gradually happen around this.

Languaging could not arise without intimacy - in separateness. Love was the emotion needed for languaging to arise.
We can distinguish between a mother-child type of relationship where cooperation is paramount and a dominance-submission type of relationship where obedience is evident. The difference is emotional. We transfer power to someone else by obeying.

We are born trusting, but fear develops because it is the basic manner of manipulating others. Aggression is cultivated. Sensuality, tenderness and sexuality constitute conditions for intimacy. Our evolution continues around love.

Our culture is a network of conversation, the central aspect of which is our emotioning. We understand when we dance in the flow of emotioning of the other. Cultural change occurs in this way. The history of change takes place in small groups.

Everything occurs in the present. We create our past to explain our present. We are connected through our history.

What it is to be human